Penn Medicine Pioneers Frugal Healthcare

Navi Radjou
3 min readDec 22, 2020



Penn Medicine is a world-renowned academic medical center in Philadelphia. Its hospitals rank among the nation’s top medical institutions. A clinical and research entity of the University of Pennsylvania, Penn Medicine has an illustrious 240-year history. Founded in 1751, Pennsylvania Hospital, part of Penn Medicine, is America’s first hospital. The University of Pennsylvania’s School of Medicine, the nation’s first, was opened in 1765. And, the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania was founded in 1874 as the country’s first teaching hospital.

The Center for Health Care Innovation (CHCI), set up at Penn Medicine in 2012, is pioneering patient-centric frugal healthcare. CHCI’s multidisciplinary team includes experts with diverse backgrounds: medicine, health policy, behavioral economics, business development, design, IT, biostatistics, communications, marketing, and operations management. CHCI’s mission is to develop new breakthrough strategies “to reimagine health care delivery for dramatically better value, patient outcomes, and experience”.

As Roy Rosin, CHCI’s Chief Innovation Officer, explains: “We want to systemically deconstruct each aspect of our care delivery — be it a procedure or a service — and reconstruct it to make it faster, better, and cheaper.” Prior to CHCI, Roy worked as the first vice president of innovation for Intuit, the Silicon Valley firm that pioneered affordable, easy-to-use accounting software. Penn Medicine hired Rosin to infuse Silicon Valley’s customer-centric and agile innovation culture into a venerable medical institution with a 240-year history.

Since they are embedded in a clinical setting, CHCI teams are always in close contact with patients, which gives them a unique opportunity to: 1) gain deep empathy for patients’ pain and grasp their real needs, 2) understand why existing solutions fail to alleviate that pain. But a keen understanding of a problem isn’t enough: you need to find the most effective way to resolve it.

CHCI uses an agile and iterative patient-centric innovation method to create, test, and implement new ideas rapidly and frugally. This method — called DDDV — has four components (see graphic below, courtesy of Center for Health Care Innovation):

1) Discover — gain deep insight into patients’ pain points through contextual inquiry

2) Define — identify precisely the problem to solve and the key metric to shift to achieve a measurable outcome

3) Diverge — explore multiple options to unearth salient attributes of an effective solution

4) Validate — run rapid, low-cost experiments to test multiple solutions and learn which one to implement and scale for maximum impact

For Rosin, this method of testing assumptions and validating/invalidating concepts quickly at low cost helps overcome the fear of failure that prevents innovation in healthcare. CHCI believes “invalidating a concept is a success if we’ve learned what not to do quickly, with a low-cost prototype, rather than months later and at great expense.”

When innovation pundits implore organizations to embrace failure, what they mean to say is that leaders should be comfortable learning quickly and at low cost what not to do and directions not worth investment. If you’re pursuing intentional hypothesis testing with rapid experiments designed to validate or invalidate key assumptions, ‘failing fast’ is actually more like fast, inexpensive hypothesis invalidation. Most organizational leaders are more comfortable quickly and cheaply learning what to avoid than with the notion of ‘failure,’ so CHCI finds it more constructive to think about rapid learning than rapid failure. The goal, after all, is to discover productive paths to follow and where to invest for a positive return, not just to quickly learn what does not work.

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Navi Radjou

Indian-French-American Scholar in Frugal Innovation + Wise Leadership. TED Speaker. Based in France. Visit: